Scientists Shed Light On Parkinson’s Cell Deaths


Just 5 percent of Parkinson’s disease cases can be explained by genetic mutation, while the rest have no known cause. But a new discovery by researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio may begin to explain why the vast majority of Parkinson’s patients develop the progressive neurodegenerative disease.

This week in The Journal of Neuroscience, the researchers demystified a process that leads to the death of brain cells – or neurons – in Parkinson’s patients. When researchers blocked the process, the neurons survived.

The findings could lead to an effective treatment to slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease, rather than simply address symptoms that include tremors, slowed movement, muscle stiffness and impaired balance. Further studies could lead to a diagnostic test that could screen for Parkinson’s years before symptoms develop, said Syed Z. Imam, Ph.D., adjunct assistant professor at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio.

Parkinson’s disease, which usually is not diagnosed until age 60 or later, affects an estimated half-million people in the United States.

Dr. Imam joined the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after the research was done. Co-authors are from the Health Science Center’s Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies, the South Texas Veterans Health Care System and the Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research in Tubingen, Germany.

“The race is on to understand the mechanism of the 95 percent of Parkinson’s cases with no known cause, and our finding certainly is a building block,” Dr. Imam said. “We have found a specific signaling mechanism that is only turned on by oxidative stress and is selective only to Parkinson’s-affected neurons of the nigra-striatum, which is the area that sends signals for balance to the cerebellum.”

Co-authors from the UT Health Science Center San Antonio are Senlin Li, M.D., senior author; Qing Zhou, Ph.D.; Anthony J. Valente, Ph.D.; Mona C. Bains, Ph.D.; Robert A Clark, M.D,; and James L. Roberts, Ph.D., whose primary appointment is now at Trinity University in San Antonio.

The National Institutes of Health, Michael J. Fox Foundation, American Parkinson’s Disease Association, Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, San Antonio Area Foundation, and Health Science Center Presidential Research Enhancement Fund supported the research.

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